“I’d been sceptical of Marias. His prose style — with its endless circling, its repetitions, its pedantic tendency to descend into lists of attributes of the commonest things — had sometimes felt ponderous, unconsciously comical. His narrators — always fastidious, usually disengaged, or attempting to be so — were men I felt I needed to argue with, to counter or check in some way. It wasn’t a tenable position. Even as I argued, my objections felt hollow. This writing was already under my skin.” Hari Kunzru’s Year in Reading.
This is a milieu that, for every Don Delillo (whose apocalypse-mastery is undeniable), produces several Jonathan Franzens or Chad Harbachs – conservative stylists whose technical gifts are harnessed to a kind of domestic realism, which eschews metaphysical or existential flights in favour of pragmatic, reader-friendly observation. It is a kind of triangulation between the demands of the critics and the market that feels, to many, less ambitious and confrontational than the work being made elsewhere in the world.
This is why, every so often, the city’s twentysomething literary crowd falls in love with a foreign writer, who for a period becomes a sort of talisman, a sign that their aspirations go higher than the current domestic-realist model will allow.
Tonight at 7pm, come out and see Hari Kunzru at WORD Brooklyn! We’re co-hosting the event!
You can still make books where stuff happens. I don’t think you necessarily have to be some kind of high postmodernist and refuse any kind of stability of meaning. One way I’ve found is through the use of silence and the use of incompleteness, because that demands a kind of active reading. It demands something from the reader — a kind of collusion with the writer.